By Lindsey Dodd / firstname.lastname@example.org / @DrLindseyD
In May and June 2017, a number of local newspapers in central France carried a story about my research, under the headline ‘Thousands of children evacuated to the Creuse away from the bombs between 1942 and 1945.’ The articles, illustrated with photographs from the Archives municipales de Boulogne-Billancourt showing excited children leaving on trains from Paris, commented ‘a British historian is looking for the former ‘little refugees’ and members of families who welcomed them’.
The response was nothing like an avalanche, and indeed, I had not expected one, but slowly emails started arriving, a few phone calls and a letter.
At first I was struck by the number of people who were simply pleased to get in touch to tell me of a family member – now deceased – who had gone through this experience. They were not people to interview, not having much more than scraps of information, but they thought it worth contacting me nevertheless. Then I received a few written accounts, some photographs and several email exchanges. But I was also contacted by several of the petits réfugiés themselves, now sprightly octogenarians looking forward to sharing their experiences with me when I visited the Creuse in 2017. My appeal also reached individuals resident in Paris and elsewhere – a newspaper spotted by a friend or neighbour, passed on and passed on again, resulting in several interviewees whom I would meet on other visits to Paris.
Having the possibility only of ten days in the Creuse in July, the opportunities were limited to who was available and when. Over the course of that trip, I visited the Archives départementales de la Creuse twice to examine the fiches d’évacuation (evacuation forms) of various evacuee children. I also interviewed fifteen people, comprising child evacuees, children from host families, other local children who got to know the evacuees, child refugees (not part of the evacuation convoys, but who fled to this region for safety and better living conditions), as well as a couple of close family members of a deceased former evacuee. Along with four interviews collected in Paris (two child evacuees, a Jewish child refugee and a teacher who accompanied the evacuees), and another interview I have been given, I now have a small corpus of twenty interviews dealing with child displacement from the Paris region (mostly) to the Creuse (mostly). More than one of the interviewees had written memoirs or even semi-fictionalised accounts of their experiences; many had photographs and other documentation which they shared with me.
Apart from the enormous generosity of all of those who agreed to meet with me and talk about such personal expereinces, the trip, under the beautiful Limousin sun, inspired the following reflections: Continue reading Interviewing in the Creuse